Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy 2012!

Out with the old, in with the new

I am constantly reminded of Charles Dicken's line from "A tale of two cities, " "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. " We had fantastic shows but we also had a couple of duds.

SFMOMA followed their show on the Stein family collections with a huge, boring exhibit of black on black "drawings" by Richard Serra. The main thing on view in that exhibit was ego.

The SECA show at SFMOMA was disappointing  and the show to promote marriage equality was not every effective. The book was a lot better (sounds like a lot of movies that we see!).

While the Asian Arts Museum rose like a phoenix from the ashes of last year's financial doldrums with several amazing exhibits, they also chose to spend a lot of money on a new logo. While I tried to be polite, I just don't get it nor did a lot of Bay Area bloggers. But the important thing is what's inside the building, not the signage on the front doors.

The SF Arts Commission reeled from stupid decision to scandal as news broke that they had chosen former dog murderer Tom Otterness for a huge project to make sculptures for the Central Subway - which is another scandal but not an artistic one. Eventually, the commission "fired" him but because of legal issues, still had to let him keep a substantial portion of the grant money. Lots of SF artists were asking why the "SF" Arts Commission couldn't chose a local artist!

The SF Arts Commission also asked their director, Luis Cancel to resign. Apparently he was spending too much time away from the desk, presumably at his second home in Brazil (maybe dancing the Bossa Nova?)

$477,000 in grant money for a SF arts group was given to a LA? The audit is ongoing (I assume?).

The Commission has appointed a new Director of Cultural Affairs, Tom De Caigny comes to the position with many years of experiences, lastly as executive director of the Performing Arts Workshop, DeCaigny will officially assume his new role leading the $10 million agency responsible for championing the arts in San Francisco on January 9, 2011. I wish him luck because he will need it.

Lastly, I just read that John Buchanan, the Director of the FAMSF (both Legion and De Young) died yesterday of cancer.

"John deserves enormous credit for his vision," said Neal Benezra, director of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, in an e-mail. "He brought a succession of important exhibitions to San Francisco, including opportunities for our community to experience masterworks from the Musée Picasso and renowned examples of Impressionism and Post-Impressionism from the Musée d'Orsay. John was a valued colleague and I will miss him tremendously."

My condolences to his family; he will be missed.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Looking back at the year in art.

"God created the Maharajas to provide a spectacle to humanity” wrote Rudyard Kipling, and the Asian did justice to his observation in their next big show, "Maharaja, Splendors of Indian's Royal Courts. There wasn’t an object in the show that wasn't embellished, inlaid with gems and gold, looped with sapphires and diamonds or outlined with pearls.The gaudy display was a reminder that today's 1% aren't alone in ignoring the misery outside their mansions.

The FAMSF gave us a feast of European art - from Pissarro to the splendors of the old masters to the subtle skill of 17th century Dutch painting in the Von Otterloo collection. 

Pissarro is probably the least well know of the impressionists and the show displayed his humanistic look at family, friends and the working people of the day as well as his political radicalism.

The behemoth blockbuster of the year was the two-museum tribute to the Stein family. Most of us know of Gertrude, the contrary, cantankerous and sometimes charming women who is notorious for saying 'There is no there, there" when referring to Oakland. Using a wealthy of archival material, the show brought to life her and Alice and a multitude of the famous and infamous of the Parisian avant-guard for decades.

Right across the road, at SFMOMA was an eloquent tribute to the family as art collectors. Seldom have so few bought so much art with so little money. It's difficult to say which is more amazing - the low prices paid for now priceless paintings by Cezanne, Picasso and Matisse or the Steins' (particularly Sarah Stein's) courageous support of art that was then new, provocative and revolutionary.

Across the bay, the Berkeley Art Museum hosted two unique shows, the first West Coast exhibit of the work of Kurt Schwitters and "Create," a show of art made by artists with disabilities.

"Create" highlighted the extraordinary contributions of three of the foremost centers for artists with disabilities, all located in the Bay Area: Creativity Explored (San Francisco), Creative Growth Art Center (Oakland), and NIAD Art Center (Richmond, CA).

As I said at the time, "It's really a shame to call them "artists with disabilities" because they are artists first, and mentally challenged second. Yet, to ignore their condition is to make light of the difficulties they face.

Thanks to the lack of a safety net, the disabled roam our streets, beg on the sidewalks, mutter to themselves, are messy, dirty, frightening. They challenge us to define what it is to be human. They test the limits of what we can do, can afford to do, have the will to do. Unfortunately, they can't always communicate how extraordinary they can be, with help, with encouragement, with love and a support system."

The MoAD brought us a rare look at original works by Romare Bearden, the vibrant quilts of the Siddis, part of the African diaspora in India and "Textural Rhythms," swing, jazz and be-bop in fabric and thread,

The CJM brought us the work and tragic life of Charlotte Salomon, considered among the most innovative artists of mid-century Europe whose work defies categorization, and continues to influence artists in unusual ways.

In the galleries: Hosfelt bought up a rare look at works by Jay De Feo. Next year, a major traveling retrospective of Jay DeFeo's work, organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art, will be presented at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in the autumn of 2012.

These are a few of my favorite things from the rich offerings from my favorite city by the bay. If I listed everything I liked along with a few things I disliked, the post would be too long to read - and it's long enough already. 

But none of this would be possible without the people behind the scenes at the museum.

I especially want to give a shout of thanks to the following: Jill Lynch, Robin Wander, Cheryl McCain (FAMSF) and Peter Cavagnaro at the Berkeley Art Museum, Libby Garrison and Robyn Wise at SFMOMA. As a member of the third tier of the press, I am immeasurably grateful for your help.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The best in 2011

 Coin Deities, Collected in the 1930's
 Margaret Mead: Upon the hundreds of stone altars of Bali, there lay not merely a fruit and a flower, placed as visible offering to the many gods, but hundreds of finely wrought and elaborately conceived offerings made of palm leaf and flowers, twisted, folded, stitched, embroidered, brocaded into myriad traditional forms and fancies. There were flowers made of sugar and combined into representations of the rainbow, and swords and spears cut from the snow-white fat of sacrificial pigs. The whole world was patterned, from the hillsides elaborately terraced to give the maximum rice yield, to the air which was shot through with music, the temple gates festooned with temporary palm-leaf arras over their permanent carved façade, to the crowds of people who, as they lounged, watching an opera or clustered around two fighting cocks, composed themselves into a frieze…Their lives were packed in intricate and formal delights...

 The witch Rangda. 1800 - 1930 (?).
 There were so many fantastic shows this year that I hardly know where to begin - but why not being in the beginning with "Bali, Art, Ritual, Performance,"  at the Asian. I think it was the first big show of the year, bringing museum goers a multi-dimensional look at an island that has long fascinated Westerners.

Their complex culture, a mixture of native beliefs and Hinduism may now be a performance more for Western tourism but enough remains to give a idea of what once was - and still is to some degree - a living culture. The exhibit didn't go into detail about the Dutch conquest. That would have been so brutal and bloody that it would have overwhelmed the exhibit. But for an honest look at the brutalities of the Dutch conquest in the 16th century, read Michael Kondl's "The Taste of Conquest. The rise and fall of the three great cities of spice."

Monday, December 26, 2011

Louie, Louie

According to various sources, including the late, great James Beard (New Fish Cookery, @1976), the dish was invented by one of the fin du siecle chefs at the Palace Hotel. Or maybe the St. Francis Hotel. or maybe the Bohemian Restaurant in Portland, Oregon. Anyway, who cares!
image: Wikipedia Creative Commons

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas

Domenichino (Domenico Zampieri), The Adoration of the Shepherds, c. 1607-10, Oil on canvas, 143 x 115cm, National Gallery of Scotland. 

I am not a big fan of Dowd but today's column on Dickens and "the Christmas Carol" is a good one. She makes the point that Dicken's story still resonates with many of us because of our own childhood experiences of rejection, abuse and misery. 

The official Christmas story is of a child who comes to redeem the world; the reality is that Jewish baby, born of poor parents,  would today be one of the world's beaten, scorned, insulted or ignored. 

The miracle is that some do remember the real meaning of the Nativity and reach out with compassion, help and tolerance. Try to celebrate that message of Christmas and not the bellow of consumer greed, intolerance or ignorance that screams loudly to block out the cries of the suffering world.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Changes at Chez NamasteNancy

My writing and other projects are keeping me so busy that it's not economically feasible to maintain a separate space for painting. I'm cleaning up, sorting out and moving my art to my home where I can put it up and enjoy it.

As the solstice dawns, I will be closing one chapter in my life and opening another. If the past is prologue, then the new chapter should be full of challenges, joys and some sorrow, new acquaintances and old friends.

So, let us turn the page together.


Sunday, December 18, 2011

Vaclav Havel

The playwright who became a protester who became a president, Vaclav Havel, has died today. There is already much on the blogosphere about this Czech great, and there will be more in tomorrow's papers. But if you only read one thing connected with him, then I'd advise you make it the address he delivered to the Czechoslovakian people on 1 January 1990, which I've copied below. It was only a few days after his election as president, yet triumphalism and celebration is there little. Instead, Havel dwells on the horrors his country endured in the Twentieth Century, and — crucially — how they were permitted to come about. It is one of my favorite speeches, and it speaks now, as well as words can, of Havel's achievements and legacy:

Saturday, December 17, 2011

National Trust On Line

Brueghel the Younger’s masterpiece 'The Procession to Calvary ' at Nostell Priory, Yorkshire.  Completed in 1602, and amongst Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s finest works, it shows Christ carrying the cross on the way to his crucifixion, set in a contemporary Flemish landscape. The painting was saved for the nation earlier this year following a successful fundraising campaign led by the Art Fund and the National Trust.

From great works of art by Gainsborough to the ordinary cotton underpants of a Midlands grocer, details of over 700,000 objects in the care of the National Trust go online for the first time. Now anyone with an interest in historic objects or old curiosities can have virtual access to collections from over 200 historic properties. The website also includes details of collections in storage, items that are too fragile to display, or on loan to other museums, making it one of the largest online resources for historic collections in the world.

The National Trust cares for some of the UK ’s greatest works of art as well as the personal collections of many famous former owners such as Winston Churchill, Agatha Christie, Rudyard Kipling, Beatrix Potter and George Bernard Shaw.

There are artistic treasures from stately houses but also thousands of everyday items from modest homes, mills, cottages and workplaces. All the paraphernalia of life – with many quirky, unusual, retro and bizarre objects – come together to form ‘time capsules’ of life across the centuries.

Some of the fascinating objects now viewable online are
• Laudanum bottle at Castle Ward
• Costume decorated with beetle wings for actress Ellen Terry at Smallhythe Place
• Sewing machine used at the tailor’s shop from the 1970s at the Back to Backs
• Brueghel the Younger’s masterpiece 'The Procession to Calvary ' at Nostell Priory
• Early anti-ageing ‘Rejuvenating’ machine at Overbeck’s
• Lavishly furnished Georgian dolls’ house at Uppark
• Photograph from 1912 of the family’s servants at Erddig
• Bible reputed to have been used at the execution of King Charles I at Chastleton House
• Pair of Aertex underpants at Mr Straw’s House
• French 18th century painted sedan chair at Snowshill

The National Trust Collections website is drawn from the Trust’s national inventory - it has taken nearly fifteen years and the work of hundreds of Trust staff, volunteers and contractors to research, catalogue and photograph the collections and develop the database – and work is on-going.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Culture Grrl (aka Lee Rosenbaum ) may leave the blogsphere.

As noted here:

..."One of the parts of my edited Finnish interview that didn't make it onto the program concerned the unremunerative nature of this solo enterprise. I have just totaled my dismal take for 2011. I'll share it with you---slightly less than $1,400 (including donations and ads), for a year out of my finite professional life. What am I thinking?

Blogging has been a labor of love and it's in my blood. I believe (as I told the Finns) that it's important, and I'd like to think that CultureGrrl has been regarded as such by its devoted, sophisticated niche audience.

So here's the Grrl's last gurgle:

If 100 readers are willing to donate $20 each within the next three weeks to express appreciation for last year's edition of CultureGrrl (or if a different combination of readers and benefactions achieves the same monetary goal), I'll continue. Given the size of my audience, that's a relatively modest goal. But it seems unlikely to be realized, in light of the record so far."

She has the connections to get behind the pretty facade of many a museum and opened the doors of public scrutiny to a lot of less-than-stellar behavior. It would be a shame to lose her concerned voice and once my Paypal account recovers from a number of December charitable donations, I will put my money where my mouth is. Unfortunately, I don't have a lot of money give but surely somebody out there does? It's the Internet's dirty little secret - all this great information, breaking news, articles, op-ed pieces, good journalism (and bad) -but nobody is paying the writers.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Dancer - Works by Mark Lightfoot at Market Street Gallery.

After last week's debacle at SFMOMA, it was a pleasure to see this show. Not many local artists work with three dimensional imagery. Flora Davis at SOMA Arts (689 Bryant St. ) is one but I really don't know any others.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

2011 Eclipse

Thoughts after viewing the 2010 SECA Award Show

I am working on a couple of longer posts but I found this on Sharon Butler's "Two Coats of Paint," and felt that it spoke to what I have been thinking about this year's SECA awards.

"My favorite quote from all the post-Miami anti-artworld posts that have gone online this week is this excerpt from Charles Saatchi's Comment in the Guardian.  "If I stop being on good behaviour for a moment, my dark little secret is that I don't actually believe many people in the art world have much feeling for art and simply cannot tell a good artist from a weak one, until the artist has enjoyed the validation of others – a received pronunciation. For professional curators, selecting specific paintings for an exhibition is a daunting prospect, far too revealing a demonstration of their lack of what we in the trade call 'an eye.' They prefer to exhibit videos, and those incomprehensible post-conceptual installations and photo-text panels, for the approval of their equally insecure and myopic peers. This 'conceptualised' work has been regurgitated remorselessly since the 1960s, over and over and over again."

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

2010 SECA Awards

Established to recognize Bay Area artists of exceptional talent with an exhibition, accompanying catalog, and modest cash prize, this year's award recipients are Mauricio Ancalmo, Colter Jacobsen, Ruth Laskey, and Kamau Amu Patton. The artists have been preparing for their SECA award exhibition, which will open at the museum on December 9, 2011, and will remain up though April 2012.

 Mauricio Ancalmo

The Society for the Encouragement of Contemporary Art (SECA) Award program is based on nominations made by members of the local arts community and SECA members. Next, they review applications from more than 200 artists and make studio visits with approximately 30 finalists led by SFMOMA’s SECA Art Award curators and open to all SECA members. Lastly, one to four artists are selected by the curators.
Colter Jacobsen

After the who, the how and the whatever, the introductory speeches soon veered off into the insider language of art speak, sadly reminiscent of art school hyperbole. The best part of the introduction was sitting next to Mike of Civic Center blog fame and trying not to giggle at his irreverent comments.

I also got distracted by watching the shimmering reflection of Jim Campbell's installation piece on the black bands of the Botta staircase. But the art speak simply turned me off and, as it turns out, didn't remotely describe what we saw later. I know about art speak; I can do it myself. I was well on my way to an MFA when I decided that end of the art business wasn't for me.

 Ruth Laskey, Twill Series, Imperial Purple

For me, Ruth Laskey's work showed the most real skill and genuine potential. She employs traditional weaving techniques to expand on the "painterly tradition of geometric abstraction." The pieces reminded me of needlepoint on linen, except that she weaves the background as well as the geometric image in a complex and intricate process. The geometric  pieces are exquisite and meditative. Although they are beautifully framed and mounted, their small size and delicate, monochromatic color are not qualities that work well in SFMOMA's huge galleries.

Mauricio Ancalmo combines various found mechanical instruments in film-based installations and kinetic sculptures to form a structural dialogue that is both poetically and philosophically inspired. Do you want to have this translated into English? His Rube Goldberg machine is an old fashioned turntable, hooked up to a projector that projects a loop of found film around the three and a half walls of a small room built within the gallery. There's music of a sort. The piece is mildly amusing although I got a bit of vertigo trying to follow the rapid image as it revolved around the room. The piece is titled "A Lover's Discourse" and if this is the state of loving communication, no wonder the divorce rate is so high.

Colter Jacobson
Colter Jacobsen's "meticulous drawings, watercolors, and installations often incorporate found ephemera to explore reflection and longing." The very young and very sweet curator described his work as "mundane and mysterious." Want a translation? The mundane and mysterious piece was a snail, made of found pieces. Other items were a watercolor on the inside of a book jacket, and other small images, looking rather like postcards - except that real postcards are more interesting. Trust me when I say that the reproduction of his pieces looks better than the originals. Because he uses so much found material, it's difficult to tell what's original from what is his creation.

Ruth Laskey, Black Twill Series

Kamau Amu Patton synthesizes works in a range of media to investigate the "inter-zone of sound, materiality, and perceptual experience."  Please don't ask me to explain this because I haven't a clue. The room had black something on the walls and black strips on the floor with an obtrusive wall of noise blanketing the room. The free form, free standing sculptures had a lovely simplicity but I can't speak to their originality.

Kamau Amu Patton. Form 1

I wondered if the guards were going to have to keep people from stepping the patterns on the floor. I did ask the very nice guard if the sound portion work would be difficult to deal with on a daily basis. She very tactfully responded that it was just up so it wasn't a problem...yet. But imagine having to stand all day surrounded by "noise" and ask kids not to walk on the installation piece on the floor.

Barry McGee has covered the last wall of the 5th floor gallery with his patented bright geometric squares. At least they are colorful.

What does this art say to me? Am I thrilled, provoked, enlightened, amazed, intrigued?

One member of the press (Susan Cohn, San Mateo Business Times) was asking the curator about how this art relates to people who are not already art insiders.  The curator was tap dancing around the question, throwing up art speak like white caps on a windy day but the long and short of it is --- it doesn't. It doesn't matter that one of the artists uploads his sound installations (think dull roar of traffic heard from a distance) to the Internet.

 I thought that maybe the younger generation would "get it" but Susan said that she has two boys and they don't understand this art nor do they care.

But her unanswered question is an important one. The fact that the curator couldn't answer it without resorting to her previously memorized sound bites says volumes about the art and whom it relates to. It's art by insiders, for insiders and made by people who understand very well the language of artistic success and how to manipulate it.

I always fight my own tendency to dislike so much of what passes for contemporary art. especially conceptual art. I am aware of my own prejudices and know that I am not the best judge. But the bulk of this work is simply not interesting enough to force me to struggle with my own bias.

In fact, work like this continues to deepen the divide between the elite who go to museums and the rest of us. This bothers me because I care about art. Maybe educational programs will cross some of that divide. But you have to show those of us who are not art insiders that it's worth crossing that divide.

The show is largely the visual equivalent of art speak where big, pseudo profound cliches cover the page but mean nothing. I'm glad for the artists who have now made a huge career leap but sad that, after such an extensive process,  SECA thinks that these are the best we have to offer.

*Images from SFMOMA, lines in quotes from their press release.
Article from the NY Times: SECA Award

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Montreal Massacre

Montreal Massacre
Thank you to [personal profile] raincitygirl for reminding me of the anniversary of the Montreal Massacre.

On 6 Dec 1989, twenty-two years ago today, Marc Lépine murdered 14 women in the name of "fighting feminism". Twelve of these women were engineering students, another was a nursing student, and the last was a school clerk. Lépine also injured 10 more women and four men. The Montreal Massacre, or the École Polytechnique massacre, is what Canadians immediately think of when they think of school shootings, but as [personal profile] raincitygirl pointed out in her post, the case is not well-known outside Canada.

In memory:
Geneviève Bergeron, 21 - civil engineering
Hélène Colgan, 23 - mechanical engineering
Nathalie Croteau, 23 - mechanical engineering
Barbara Daigneault, 22 - mechanical engineering
Anne-Marie Edward, 21 - chemical engineering
Maud Haviernick, 29 - materials engineering
Maryse Laganière, 25 - budget clerk in school's finance dept
Maryse Leclair, 23 - materials engineering
Anne-Marie Lemay, 22 - mechanical engineering
Sonia Pelletier, 28 - mechanical engineering
Michèle Richard, 21 - materials engineering
Annie St-Arneault, 23 - mechanical engineering
Annie Turcotte, 21 - materials engineering
Barbara Maria Klucznik-Widajewicz, 31 - nursing

ETA: Lessons of the Montreal Massacre: Why women must fight to be what they want. A really good article from two years ago, on the 20th anniversary, which interviewed a few of the survivors.
"We are not feminists."

A young, incredulous Nathalie Provost said those words to Marc Lépine 20 years ago Sunday. It was a bid to save her and her fellow students' lives – the women Lépine had isolated in a university classroom before opening fire on them with a semi-automatic hunting rifle. [...]

"I realized many years later that in my life and actions, of course I was a feminist. I was a woman studying engineering and I held my head up."
If you've never heard of the Montreal Massacre, I encourage you to read the Wikipedia article--though I'll warn you that some of the "controversy" section might make your blood boil. Here in the US, we don't even have that slender protection.
"Even as we mourn the 14 women killed at l’École Polytechnique, this government is taking the last remaining safeguard off the very weapon that murdered these women," Ms. Turmel said. "The Conservatives are recklessly dismantling the only positive thing to come out of the tragic events of Dec. 6." (Globe and Mail)

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Fundraiser for Julie and Lee

I first met Julie through her blog "Tango Baby" and later, followed her adventures in SF through her blog and later book, "Julie lives here."

I met Lee at one of Julie's openings and thoroughly enjoyed his tales of going to college in New England as well as his quirky sense of humor.

Last month, Julie came home to Lee who had suffered a massive stroke. His rehabilitation will be long but he's already shown signs he's a fighter. "Today with help he took a few steps" Julie announced to us on Saturday while we helped her pack up their home.

This road to recovery is more than what insurance will cover. There are medical bills from his initial emergency room/ICU visit, they will need to move into a more Lee friendly home at some point, Julie is trying to run his companies while packing up their life and staying with friends in the meantime. The fact that so many people have come forward to offer help speaks volumes about the impact Lee and Julie have had on so many people.

Please if you can help it would be appreciated.

There will be a fundraiser Sunday December 18 from 3pm - 7pm at the San Francisco Motorcycle Club, 2194 Folsom Street, San Francisco, CA 94110.

There will be a few fundraisers to help them get through this so check back on a regular basis.

Sunnyvale Pottery Studio Christmas Sale

Barbara Brown, Ikebana vase. @the artist (used with permission).